Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Word Of The Week


The first full day that we had our new puppy, Callie, at home, we also had a contractor in to replace our kitchen window. We hadn't planned on the two things happening at the same time, but that's the way things go.

During a break in the work, we took Callie outside and she played a little with the workers. One of them was full of advice on puppy training and how to apply discipline.

"N'hésitez pas à lui donner des calottes quand elle les mérite," he said. Oh, don't worry, I replied, or something or other just to agree with him and move on. I took the dog inside and had to ask Ken what calottes were. He wasn't sure, so I went to the dictionary.

The first definition for calotte is a small cap that covers the top of the head, typically worn by the clergy. Examples are the red cap that a cardinal wears, or the white one worn by the pope, or the jewish yarmulke. Why should I feel free to give the dog little skullcaps ? It was obviously the second meaning for calotte that our worker had in mind : a slap on the head or the face. All was clear now. He had said, "Don't hesitate to give her a few whacks when she deserves it."

When we got Collette, our first dog, in 1992, a friend of mine gave me the book The Art of Raising a Puppy by the Monks of New Skete in upstate New York. These guys have made a business of raising and training German shepards. Dogs are descended from wolves, they point out, and you the human are the alpha wolf, or top dog. You need to show them that.

When they misbehave, do what the alpha dog would do : grab the puppy firmly by the loose skin around the neck (you can't hurt it there) and in a swift movement, turn it over on its back, look directly into its eyes and give it a loud "NO !" The dog will go limp and submissive and will learn not to do whatever it was it was doing AND learn that you are the boss. It worked great with Collette, and I've already "alpha'd" Callie a time or two. I'm top dog ! No need for calottes.

Update : well, I've actually had occasion to tap Callie on the snout. It's a complete reflex action. She'll bite with those sharp little teeth during a play session, sometimes on my face. Then whack ! Before I know it, I've slapped her. It makes me feel worse than it makes her feel, I'm sure. Just more play as far as she's concerned.

She's been more and more aggressive with her chewing in the past few days, probably due to the miserable weather and the fact that we can't be outside playing as much and she's bored. No amount of "No's" or the substitution of proper chew toys have had any effect. This morning I had totally had it. I got out the training collar and gave her a lesson. She yelped and went completely submissive and afterward just sat down and pouted for a while. Then she came over and licked me and is now curled up at my feet as I type. She's not chewing on anything.

I remember that, back when Collette was a puppy, the trainer told me that I was not aggressive enough - humans are often afraid to hurt a dog or the dog's feelings during training sessions. That gives the dog the idea that she is in charge. When the trainer took Collette and was appropriately aggressive with her, she was like putty in his hands. I need to remember that.

Sorry for the long dog story, but writing it down seems to help.

Woof !


  1. Hmmm... I wonder if the New Skete method would work on kids. Although it might cause quite a stir among the other parents at the playground.

  2. Even though I've had dogs all my life, I learned alot from that Monk book. One thing that is true - a happy and well adjusted dog is one that knows its place in the pack. We did alot of work with Zephyr, including obedience and bite-inhibition training. We knew that we would be having a kid within a few years of getting the dog so it was necessary to try and make her as kid-safe as possible. Needless to say that all that paid off. She and my son are inseparable and it's sweet and cliched to see the boy and his dog.

    Your puppy is so lucky to have you guys as parents!

  3. I have not read the book. However, my trainer is of the same mind. Not so much the Alpha male but having the dog know his or her place. Also, a tired dog is a happy dog. So, get that ball and throw it!

  4. Ben, hmmmmm, let me know if the method works on kids. Actually, let Amy H. know...

    Jayne, sounds like you certainly know what your doing !

    MP, I'd love to get the ball out, but our weather has precluded outdoor activities for the time being (although we do slip in a few minutes of wet frisbee play in between squalls). It's supposed to be warm and sunny on Friday, so we'll get to go outdoors.


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